On the whole married priests issue

Sometimes our priests in the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans have had others assume that because they are married Catholic priests they also hold an array of progressive positions.   Usually along with a push for married priests is a push for women in the diaconate, and eventually the priesthood—in other words a flattening of any hierarchical order in the Church and an unraveling of Holy Orders and of sacramental theology itself.

I can’t tell you how much most of us want to distance ourselves from that point of view.  We do not want to be used as a wedge to change the Western Church’s discipline of celibacy, which is the norm for us in the Personal Ordinariates, with married men being considered for priesthood on a case by case basis.

Thus, even though some of us may hold that a married priesthood and the charism of a family at the heart of a parish is part of our Patrimony, we assent to the Church’s position on celibacy, and pray for vocations among our young men to embrace this call.  Yet we love and respect our married priests and their wives and thank God for them.
So then, what to make of reports coming out of Rome that Pope Francis has called a synod to look at whether married men of proven character can be ordained priests in parts of Brazil where there is a massive priest shortage?

The Catholic Herald has this report by Ed Condon entitled Married Priests are the Wrong Answer to the Amazon’s Problems:

He writes:

Of course, there are some people who would like clerical celibacy to become optional everywhere. These tend, especially in the United States, to be the remnant of a 1970s generation of liberals who expected the post-Vatican II Church to reform itself into a socially progressive, and sexually permissive, form of Catholicism which was in tune with the wider trends of their time. They were left disappointed, and many of their number left the priesthood to marry and become social workers or psychotherapists. Those who remained still consider clerical celibacy as the icon of their frustrations, and the pointy end of a disciplined Church which drove their old friends away. Their arguments for a total end to celibacy often creep in to discussions, like the request by some of the Brazilian Church, which treat specific situations and muddy the waters terribly.



The current examples of married priests don’t settle the issue: in the Eastern Churches, they have existed for two millennia and institutions have organically developed to support them. As for former Anglicans, they were admitted on a case by case basis following considerable scrutiny. These small exceptions cannot make a case for the kind of disruption to the very fabric of the Latin Church which an end to clerical celibacy would bring.

As for the Amazon, is undeniable that there are far too few priests to meet the needs of some communities. (Some estimates have put it at the ratio of one priest for every ten thousand Catholics in the more remote areas.) But I am totally unconvinced that ordaining married men is the answer.


Condon calls for a recovery  and cultivation of the vocation of missionary priests.

Interestingly though, in today’s environment, when universalism and indifferentism has crept into the belief of many Catholics, there is not the kind of urgency to launch out and suffer for the sake of the salvation of souls. Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI had this to say last year in a rare interview reported on by CNA:

Benedict noted, “there is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma” and that since the 1950s “the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized … has been fully affirmed.”

He noted that the great missionaries of the 1500s were compelled by their belief in the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation, and that the changing understanding of this necessity led to “a deep double crisis”: a loss of motivation for missionary work, and a loss of motivation for the faith itself.

The emeritus Pope addressed both the theory of the ‘anonymous Christian’ and indifferentism as inadequate solutions to the crises, and offered instead the idea that Christ’s loving suffering for the world is the solution, which must become our model.


8 thoughts on “On the whole married priests issue

  1. “CHRIST loving suffering for the world is the solution, which must become our model” HELLO!!!!!! I think I prefer, Christ loving joy, mercy, compassion, etc, etc, and the great call of the Holy Spirit in our lives to sacred priesthood.


  2. Let us put the more esoteric arguments aside and move to the principle of Oakum’s razor. There are clearly some instances and some men who would be quite suitable as married priests. There are some who would not. The statement that such an institution would diminish the doctrine of the male priesthood is valid primarily in the instance of those already inclined in that direction and little else of what is done or not in regard to a celibate priesthood will have little effect on them. The total abolition of the married priesthood in the Western Church was a long and fitful process, contrary to what some would have you believe. The proper thing to do would seem to be to prepare the Western Church to also organically adopt a married priesthood in some form with limits that conform to Western norms. This issue is not going away. It can be settled either by a flat prohibition, in which case the issue of a shortage of clergy will remain, or it can be shaped with a view to the best end, acknowledging the minor changes that have already been made in the instance of deacons, conversions from other denominations, etc. In any event, it can not be ignored.


    • Yes, the fact that the present norm of celibacy for the clergy of the Latin church did not happen overnight is very significant. Rather, it developed over a period of three or four centuries. The restoration of the former practice of ordaining married men undoubtedly also will happen over some protracted period of time: it began by way of exception for married former Protestant and former Anglican clergy during the tenure of Pope Pius XII, and we are now seeing discussion of possible broader permission to be determined by each episcopal conference. Pope Francis has said that he wants each episcopal conference to decide the matter for its territory, rather than imposing a change where the church is not ready for it.

      But there are chinks in the armor.



    • Donald,

      A fundamental assumption that you made is that the married priesthood will solve the shortage of clergy (“or it can be shaped with a view to the best end”) and end your argument like that. Most of the people who defend the celibate priesthood contest that assertion based on the fact that protestants and the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics (who allowed married pastors or priests) are running into the same problem, in that there aren’t enough of them regardless. There are arguments to both sides which are hardly esoteric, but more based on the practicality of the married man giving his entire self to his family and the priest giving himself entirely to the Church. If one assumes the priesthood is simply a job, then yes, you can make the argument that he should/could be married. If you look at it as the entire life, is pure vocation, as the husband’s entire life is dedicated to his spouse and children, it’s incredibly difficult. One man cannot give 200% of himself. So, argue away, but please don’t assert that it is entirely cut and dry and the solution to the problem of too few priests.

      I personally think it’s due to a lack of solid complete catechisus from a young age from parent’s and priests. Once you love God, you follow wherever he leads, even if it seems hard. My humble opinion.


      • James: Good points except that I do not say an optional married clergy is THE solution. It is part of A solution. There are priests now who manifest varying degrees of piety, dedication and basic suitability for the vocation. That will probably never change regardless of whether they are celibate. The Church is a divine institution but its members are quite human.


      • Here, you are opening a royal can of worms: what, exactly, constitutes a “shortage” of clergy, and how do we really know when we have crossed it? Most of us thought that we had a severe shortage of clergy when Catholic parishes that formerly had five or six priests assigned to full time parochial ministry went down to half that many, but we have somehow continued to function with much less than that, with lay folks stepping up to the plate to carry out administrative and ministerial duties formerly performed by our priests. It’s not clear that we have reached a true “shortage” yet.

        That said, there is no doubt that many of our priests are stretched very thin, and that burn-out of clergy has been a serious problem. There is no question that a change of discipline that would admit more men to sacred orders would distribute the workload more broadly and thus would help to diminish this problem.

        Incidentally, it’s not at all clear that all married priests would be engaged in full time ministry. There has long been discussion of the possibility of some sort of “auxiliary priesthood” of married men who would continue to work at secular occupations, but would be available primarily to celebrate masses, including weddings, and funerals, on weekends and on holy days of obligation. You could envision this as an extension of the present role of permanent deacons.

        But, again, the pope recognizes that the situation is far from uniform and thus wants each episcopal conference to determine what is best in its own territory.



    • Ah, I don’t get your comment about “… a future pontiff that has a bit more sense of collegiality about him….” How can a pope be more collegial than putting the matter in the hands of each episcopal conference for its territory?



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